A brief history of human powered flight

The first historical references to human flight come from Greek mythology when Icarus took flight with wings made from feathers and wax, before flying too close to the sun, melting the wax and crashing to his death in the sea below.

The 15th Century artist and inventor Leonardo Da Vinci was obsessed with the mystery of flight and strove to achieve it for his entire life.  “For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return“.  He drew fantastic designs of bat-like flying machines before realising his folly and coming up with a design for a single monoplane wing which is the basic principle behind most  aircraft of today.

The first genuine flight of a human powered aircraft was that of SUMPAC in 1961 when Derek Piggott took off and landed under his own power. SUMPAC (Southampton University man-powered aircraft) was designed and built by students, and managed 64 metres on its maiden flight. It clocked up 40 successful flights and recorded nearly 600m on one flight, before being retired in 1963 after a crash. Since then there have been many more designs, with varying degrees of success, including an inflatable HPA designed by Fred To.

The advent of  modern materials like carbon fibre has helped reduce the weight of modern machines, but this is a sport still in its infancy. We live in exciting times!

 

About the BHPFC

The British Human Powered Flying Club was formed in 2014 by Dr Bill Brooks, Fred To, Chris Roper and Malcolm Whapshott to run events that advance and encourage the sport of flying human powered aircraft. In recent years it has organised HPA competitions at Sywell and Lasham airfields and is now responsible for running the annual Icarus cup challenge.

Although the club is based in Britain it has members from  all over the world, from around 14 countries. If you would like to join this select group of aviation pioneers please fill out the form on the “Join” page. Membership is just £10 per year!

SUMPAC flying in 1961
Betterfly – a modern day HPA